The Phantom Cat

"That monster has snapped two of my best rods." That was the first time I had heard anything about the big catfish. Red Watts was complaining about his bad luck to the local "spit and whittle club" at Bill Summers' store on top of Federal Hill. I was 8 or 9 years old and accompanied Dad or Grandpa Guy up to the store often. Here the area outdoorsmen met to compare stories. There was more fur, feathers and scales on that floor than you can imagine. And imagine is exactly what we mostly did there.

I was lucky enough to have spent my childhood days growing up in a small town in southeast Missouri. Flat River was far enough from St. Louis to be tranquil, but close enough to be handy. I had lots of relatives still on the farm, and my life was close to perfect for a young boy.

But this catfish story of Red's had my undivided attention. A monster around there? My ears became as big as saucers.

"It was about three years ago," he started. "I had three rods out. Two with minnows and one with chicken liver, for catfish. I'd caught a few small crappie, nothin' much, when my catfish rod all but jumped in the water." Then he added, "I set the hook hard and he headed upstream toward the gravel plant.

"He stripped every inch of line and then broke the rod off at my hand," Red whined.

"He tore my limb-line plumb off the tree," another voice joined the conversation. It was a familiar voice. I turned around to see Grandpa's face twist with anger as he told how the big fish embarrassed him.

"He stripped all of my line, too, Red," Grandpa said. "All the way down to the spool. Then snap, it broke the line right at the reel. I was mad, but at least I didn't lose my rod. I went back the next evening to try again," Grandpa said. "This time I'd be ready for that big fella." I sat there mesmerized by his story.

"I took a full spool of heavy line. Not that new monofilament stuff either - good, heavy braided nylon line." Grandpa's voice was slow and solemn now. He was serious not only about the fish, but about his story as well. He had the full and undivided attention of everyone in the store, including Boots Mouser, who had come in